Friday, May 26, 2017

Evolution (North Star Games)

I own and play a lot of games. Some games fall to the wayside and are given away, traded, or sold. Some stay in my collection for sentimental reasons or on the off-chance that I will get to play it once a year. Others stand the test of time for game play, art, strategy, and fun. Evolution is one of those games, because in addition to checking all those boxes, it is also educational, and I'm the type of person who likes to constantly learn and grow (evolve, if you will) and also secretly teach my son, while he is just having fun and playing games. Evolution is a game for 2-6 players, age 12+. It takes about an hour to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Place the Watering Hole board in the middle of the table.
2. Place the Food tokens to the side to form the Food Bank.
3. Give each player a Food Screen and a player aid.
4. Shuffle the deck of Trait Cards, and place it face-down on the table.
5. Randomly determine the first player and give them the first player marker.
Game Play - The game is played over a variable number of rounds with four phases each round:
1. Deal Cards - Give a Species Board (with wooden cubes on the 1 spaces of both Population and Body Size) to any player who does not have a species. In the first round, every player gets a free species. Then, deal each player three cards, plus one card for species in front of them.
2. Select Food - The number on the bottom right of the Trait Cards represents Plant Food. Have each player secretly choose one Trait Card from their hand and place it face-down in the watering hole. The total of these cards will determine how much Plant Food is available this round.
3. Play Cards - Starting with the first player, a player can play as many Trait Cards from their hand as they want or save them for next round. Trait Cards can be used for three actions:
a. Played face-down above a Species to give your animal new traits. (Note: A Species cannot have duplicate Trait Cards or more than three Trait Cards.)
b. A player may discard a Trait Card face-up to get a new Species Board (with wooden cubes on the 1 spaces of both Population and Body Size).
c. A player may discard a Trait Card face-up to increase the Population or Body Size of one of their Species. (Note: You cannot go above 6 with Population or Body Size.)
Once all players have played their Trait Cards, they are revealed.
4. Feeding - Reveal the Trait Cards in the Watering Hole and total their food value. Add that many Food tokens to the Watering Hole. If the amount is negative, remove that many Food tokens from the Watering Hole. Starting with the first player, and going in clockwise order, each player must feed one of their hungry Species (Note: A hungry Species has less Food than its Population.) by taking a Food token from the Watering Hole. Carnivores cannot eat from the Watering Hole and must attack another Species (including one belonging to the same player) with a Body Size smaller than the carnivore's. Feeding ends when there are no more hungry Species or the Food has run out. (Note: If a Species gets less Food than its Population Size, reduce its Population to the amount of Food eaten. If a Species does not eat or a carnivore reduces another Species to 0 Population, the Species goes extinct.) Take any Food eaten by your Species and put them behind your Food Screen for end game scoring.

The end of the game is triggered when the Trait Card deck has to be shuffled. If this happens during the Deal Cards phase, this is the last round. If it happens any other time, one more round will be played. Add up your points. Each Food token and Trait Cards on a surviving Species is worth one point. Additionally each Species is worth its ending Population. Most points wins!
Review
The first thing you notice about Evolution is the art on the box and cards. To put it mildly, it is gorgeous. There are a lot of games out there with stunning artwork, and in this golden age of board games, you have to have stellar artwork. Evolution takes the cake! The watercolor paintings on the Trait Cards are vibrantly colorful and make the game and more specifically your Species come to life. Catherine Hamilton has an amazing talent, and you don't know whether you want to play the game or put it in a picture frame and hang it on the wall!

Aside from the artwork, I think what I love most about this game is the way that the game plays. A lot of games, there are tried and true methods or strategies to winning or at least performing well in. Evolution lives up to its name and requires a strategy that is ever-changing and adaptable. If you are too rigid in the way you play, you will not win. For example, if you think, "I can just create a carnivore or two and eat my opponents for an easy win." WRONG! If your opponents play some traits that bolster their defense or increase their body size, then you will quickly find that your carnivore is eating your other species or dying of hunger. There's also strategy involved in how big to make your population size and how much food to put into the Watering Hole, because if your species is small, you might want to put less or negative food in, so that some of your opponents' larger population species starve. It's beautifully cruel, but is true to life.

The best part about this game is the level of devotion and dedication that North Star Games has put into evolving (See what I did there?) the game system. This first started by adding an expansion to the game called Evolution: Flight. In addition to adding new Trait Cards, this allows your Species to now have the ability to fly. They are harder to make and even harder to maintain, but it adds an interesting new dynamic to the game without over-complicating it.

For people who want an even simpler game to play with kids and your non-gamer family and friends, there is Evolution: The Beginning (a Target exclusive). This streamlines the game and is a great affordable option to introduce people to gaming without sacrificing art or quality.

For people who want a richer and even more thematic game play, there is Evolution: Climate, which can be purchased as a stand-alone game if you don't have Evolution or as a conversion kit, if you already have the base game. If you thought the theme was great in the original game, it shines even brighter with Climate, because you not only have to account for how much food is in play and what Traits your opponents have, now you have to worry about the weather. If it gets too hot, your larger species are going to drop in population. If it gets too cold, your smaller species are going to freeze to death. The events in the game make your brain burn a little more and make you think a little deeper! (Warning: Don't mix Flight and Climate together!)

I love this game and game system that North Star Games has dedicated themselves too. It is one of those games that is simple, but deep, light but heavy, and quick but engaging. There is so much replay value in this game, because you never know how much food is going to be available, how people are going to combine traits to make species, and how those species are going to interact with other species. The game is also educational, and not just in that it will teach you strategy or risk-reward analysis, you'll actually learn some science too, i.e., adaptation and the "evolutionary arms race" between predators and prey. Look for this game to be re-released June 1, and be on the lookout for the next game in this system, which is going to focus on Oceans and aquatic species.